With Christmas approaching, Rio Rancho-area animal welfare officials offered advice for pet owners to ensure the holidays are enjoyable for not only them, but also their canine and feline companions.

What if your animal must join you on a long trip?

Kelli Mortensen, Sandoval County animal care associate, said pet owners can teach their animals about vehicles and get them comfortable by going on short rides before the trip. She said if pets haven’t previously ridden inside a vehicle, they’d be more likely to “freak out or get carsick.”

“Just getting them used to the vehicle is going to help a ton,” she said.

For dogs, Mortensen said “tiring them out” with a long walk or a quick trip to the park can help them relax during the drive. For cats, she said using a laser toy to help them get pre-trip exercise would be beneficial.

On the flip side, she also said owners can give them a toy for mental stimulation in the car.

“They have a lot of toys that you can fill them with (pet food) or peanut butter, things like that, just so that they’re mentally stimulated and they’re not just constantly thinking about what’s happening,” she said.

Depending on how long the trip lasts, she said, it’d help to find a safe area for animals to get out, stretch their limbs and use the restroom. She also said pet collars with ID tags are “always super easy to get” ahead of time, in case a pet gets lost in unfamiliar territory.

Sara Heffern, Watermelon Mountain Ranch no-kill animal shelter executive director, said owners should make sure their pets’ microchip information is updated in the event they wander off. If they’re not already microchipped, Heffern said to get it done.

She said animals should be up to date on their vaccinations if travel involves bathroom stops or going to a park where other animals may be.

“You don’t know what other animals could be carrying, and you want to make sure that your pet’s immune system is as strong as possible prior to the trip,” she said.

Heffern also recommends bringing a travel carrier for your pet, depending on the pet’s temperament. In the event of a bad wreck, she said having pets in the carrier or with a collar-specific attachment buckled into a regular seatbelt will help ensure they won’t be ejected.

At the vacation spot, Heffern said, pet owners should stick with the usual feeding and walking schedules. She also said they should be more aware of fence lines and holes in fences at vacation homes, as well as keeping animals on a leash rather than letting them roam free in an unfamiliar yard.

According to Connie Peterson, City of Rio Rancho Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department director, pet owners should keep their car and animal’s crate well ventilated, provide plenty of water at all times, not let their dog travel on an empty stomach and have proof of rabies vaccination.

Additionally, she said owners shouldn’t let dogs stick their heads out of an open window because flying debris can cause eye injuries. Also, dogs should not ride in the back of a pickup truck because they could fall out and get hurt or die.

What pet sitters should know

Peterson said pet sitters should not make themselves too comfortable in the owner’s home so the pet doesn’t experience a stressful change in routine. She said pet sitters must ask the owner if they may use specific appliances and electronic devices, and clean up after themselves.

Peterson said that when a pet sitter takes their client’s dogs for walks, don’t stop to let other people pet them or allow other dogs to sniff them because the client’s dog could bite or be bitten.

Mortensen said it’s important that the owner interviews that prospective pet sitter before leaving and communicates the feeding and bathroom schedules.

Heffern said a pet sitter should be trusted, whether a friend or someone with strong recommendations on a third-party website, and the owner should have the sitter meet the animal ahead of time.

She also said the owner should provide a list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” seemingly abnormal behaviors that are actually “totally normal” and emergency contact information.

What if your pet isn’t used to snowier, colder areas?

While thick-furred breeds like huskies or shepherds will probably be fine in cold temperatures, Mortensen said a short-haired animal should only be outside for things like bathroom trips or a quick walk because they’re less equipped to deal with the cold — unless they’re wearing a dog coat.

“These small breeds, they don’t have enough body heat to keep them warm. They’re not big enough; they don’t have long coats,” she said.

If owners travel to places with lots of snow, Heffern said they should buy their animals winter booties because ice-melting salts can be toxic and burn their feet. She also said they should have a pet jacket.

Peterson said cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, and should not be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather. She also said owners should check a dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injuries such as cracked paw pads or bleeding, and that pets shouldn’t be left in a cold vehicle unattended.

While indoors, Peterson said one should use space heaters with caution around pets because space heaters can burn or be knocked over, potentially starting a fire. She also said pets should be kept at a healthy weight throughout the winter, adding that outdoor pets will require more calories to generate enough body heat and energy to keep warm.

Other key tips

Heffern said Christmas tree ornaments should be kept away from dogs so they don’t chew or step on them. She also said chocolate, turkey bones, ham bones and gravy drippings should be kept away from dogs because they cause intestinal issues.

Additionally, she said noises from new toys can make pets nervous, so owners should be cognizant of that and give their pets some space.

Mortensen said household plants like poinsettias are poisonous to cats.

Speaking of pets, Freedom, this 2-year-old spayed female Beagle mix, is among the animals up for adoption in Sandoval County. County information says she’s sweet, loyal and loving dog. Anyone looking to adopt Freedom or another pet can call 505-867-7642 or email sandovalpets@sandovalcountynm.gov. Courtesy photo.

Microchipping resources for pets

Heffern said Watermelon Mountain Ranch, at 3251 Westphalia Blvd., offers $25 microchipping on site Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day. No appointments are needed.

Mortensen said other low-cost options include Valley Vetco at 413 Montaño Road NE, Building A, in Albuquerque. She also said any veterinary clinic can microchip, depending on the person’s budget.